Whether Remission of Sentences of her Perpetrators offers a template for Victims / Survivors How Justice Would End for them now onwards ?

 bilkis bano case convicts

Who gets ‘Amrit’ , who gets ‘Vish’ ?

Hindu mythology according to ‘Vishnu Purana’ talks about gods getting ‘Amrit’ (nectar) and asuras ( demons) getting Vish ( poison) after the Samudra Manthan of Kshirsagar.

Well, in the ‘Amrit Kaal’ of Azaadi -as the government calls it – perhaps it has proved to be exact opposite for Bilkis Bano – the 41 year old women / survivor from a village Limkheda near Godhra, who saw her perpetrators walking free from jail – thanks to remission of their sentence by the state government – and she again left rather alone to fight for her ‘right to live without fear and in peace’.

It would be an understatement to say that for Bilkis the sole survivor of a brutal gang rape and witness to a horrific massacre of 14 of her relatives, who stood her ground and embarked  upon a brave and long battle for justice, who became an icon of sorts of all women who are struggling for their dignity and truth, this decision has come as a bolt from the blue.

The brazenness with which the state government took this decision can also be understood from the fact that it did not even deem it necessary to inform Bilkis or her husband Yakoob – who has stood by her all these years – how and why it intends to release these gangrapists and murderers prematurely, why there is going to be remission in their sentences of life imprisonment.   ( https://thewire.in/government/bilkis-bano-remission-bjp-mlas-murli-mulchandani)

Whatever might be the claims of the state government – this decision would not have been possible without getting nod from the highest authorities at the centre – which decided to remit their sentence violating the central government’s own rules which had barred people convicted of heinous crimes like rape and murder getting any remission in their sentence.  (https://www.deccanherald.com/national/west/gujarat-govt-ignored-centre-s-rules-of-remission-in-bilkis-bano-rape-convicts-release-1136639.html)

This kid glove treatment to rapists and murderers by the ruling dispensation in the home state of PM and deputy HM,  not only brings forth the deep rooted misogyny in the Hindutva Supremacist world view which drives the government but inadvertently or so it has also exposed hollowness of PM”s rhetoric around Nari Shakti spun in his long speech on 75 th anniversary of Independence day, whose minions had no qualms in setting free eleven convicts of murder and gang rape under amnesty scheme within few hours.

This decision has created uproar in a section of the civil society and there is growing demand that this pre-mature release of these eleven gang rapists and mass murderers be revoked and Supreme Court is being called upon to undo this grave miscarriage of justice.

What is rather troubling that this outrage is not widespread as one witnessed during earlier cases , may it be the Nirbhaya Case ( 2011) or many earlier cases.

Does it mean that outrage is also getting limited to faith of the victim / survivor nowadays?

Whether these convicts whose sentence to life imprisonment have been remitted on ambiguous grounds  would be again sent back to jail  is an open question ?

Whether the highest court which itself had ratified the sentence meted out to this culprits earlier and which was instrumental in directing the case to be shifted to Mumbai highcourt earlier, to ensure delivery of justice outside would suo moto intervene to not only ensure Bilkis’s right to live without fear and in peace but also to ensure every woman’s right to belief in the criminal justice system who is also faced with sexual harassment and violence at various levels, remains to be seen.

Looking at the growing claims that there is an ideological shift in judiciary itself (https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/an-unfortunate-ideological-shift-in-the-judiciary/article38083370.ece ; https://thewire.in/law/supreme-court-chhattisgarh-tribals-killing-himanshu-kumar-fine-vengeful-attitude ; https://thewire.in/law/judiciary-in-the-modi-era-shielding-the-state-and-axing-the-people) the possibility remains much dim.

Of course, one thing is quite certain that in coming days various affiliated organisations of the Hindutva family, activists would keep meeting these eleven people or they would be even felicitated here and there, basically to create a pressure that there is no rethinking on their release.

The way all of them received warm welcome in front of the jail, were offered sweets, were garlanded and few of them were even offered ‘aarti’ just goes to show the impunity with which their long stay behind bars for ghastly crimes against humanity are being viewed in Hindutva circles. Reports have appeared in a section of the media how all these eleven convicts went together to a prominent hall in the city for similar ‘felicitation’ (https://scroll.in/article/1030686/in-godhra-bilkis-bano-convicts-felicitated-by-rss-member-soon-after-their-release)

Any civilised society would abhor glorification of such persons who were found engaged in such a brutality against innocents, forget think of felicitating them and it would be considered a very despicable act.

Such things are passe at least in New India

Facts tell us that since last more than eight years such glorification / felicitations of people accused of murder, rape and other crimes against humanity or sanitisation of their images has become quite common.

One can easily recall how Jayant Sinha, then a cabinet minister garlanded lynching convicts ( https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/union-minister-jayant-sinha-garlands-8-lynching-convicts-faces-opposition-flak/articleshow/64901863.cms) or how the alleged killers of Pehlu Khan, a Muslim dairy farmer from Haryana, a self-proclaimed band of cow vigilantes, were compared to the likes of Bhagat Singh. ( https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/sadhvi-equates-alwar-lynching-case-accused-with-bhagat-singh/articleshow/58277683.cms) or how body of one of the accused in the Dadri lynching case was covered with the Indian tricolour (https://thewire.in/law/draping-national-flag-on-body-of-dadri-lynching-accused-by-bisada-village-unconstitutional) We can even recall how a  Twitterati even ‘celebrated’ journalist , activist Gauri Lankesh murder’ on his twitter handle.

It is also a sign of changing circumstances that the way justice has been systematically sabotaged in case of Bilkis is not an exception.

Instances galore which show how in the last eight years girls, women who faced sexual assaults have consistently received raw deal.

May it be the case of rape and murder of an eight year old Bakkarwal girl Asifa in Jammu, when BJP’s own ministers came out on streets demanding release of the accused who were put behind bars for their alleged role in the Sexual assault of this little girl.(https://www.indiatoday.in/india/story/kathua-rape-murder-case-mastermind-sanji-ram-five-others-convicted-by-special-court-1545855-2019-06-10) or even the Unnao case where a local MLA belonging to BJP had come under scanner of the police for his alleged role in the rape of a teenaged girl in 2017 and it took a long time for the ruling dispensation to formally dissociate from him or how the dalit girl from Hathras – who faced gang rape at the hands of her neighbours – was cremated in her own village in the dead of the night without even allowing her parents and others to attend the cremation.

It may be a puzzling question that what makes such impunity towards rapes, sexual violence and murders possible among Hindutva Supremacists.

Whether it would be proper to say that it flows from the way in which Sangh’s second supremo Golwalkar talked about religious minorities and communists in his famous book ‘Bunch of Thoughts’ where he categorised them as internal threats (https://www.cpiml.net/liberation/2021/02/exposing-golwalkar-in-his-own-words)

Or it would be more proper to say that this attitude has roots in the way Savarkar the ‘pioneer ideologue of Hindutva ‘ has talked of politics of revenge in general and the way he talks about rape and sexual violence against the others.in his ‘‘magnum opus’ Bhartiya Itihasatil Saha Soneri Paane (‘Six Golden Epochs in Indian History)’ In this much discussed book Savarkar propounds the thesis of the ‘collective guilt of Muslims.’ He lays down the thesis that Muslims need to be punished not only what they themselves have done but what their coreligionists had done.

One of the most reprehensible but also the least known part of Savarkar’s life is the way he criticised Shivaji for his chivalry towards the daughter in law of Nawab of Kalyan who was captured and brought before him by his army. He calls this act perverted virtue. ( Bhartiya Itihasatil Saha Soneri Paane, Chapter 4 and 5, P. 147-74). The legend goes that when one of his enthusiastic assistants presented before him the daughter in law of Nawab expecting to get some special favour, Shivaji not only reprimanded him for such act but also punished him and sent back the women to her place with full honour. ( Six Glorious Epochs of Indian History, P. 461, Delhi, Rajdhani Granthagar, 1971.)

Savarkar condemns this act by Shivaji and says that he was wrong as this cultured and human treatment could not evoke in those fanatics the same feelings about Hindu women.

For a layperson also it is easy to comprehend that his condemnation of Chhatrapati Shivaji, a great icon of Hindu-Muslim unity inadvertently or so provides a theoretical justification for brutalisation of women when fighting the ‘enemies’

Gangrapes and sexual violence against women and girls in every other communal riot in India are a living testimony to this worldview.

Subhash Gatade is a social activist


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